Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Show Me The Money

In the weeks leading up to my move to Australia in January 2010, I popped into my local bank to order some Australian currency to have in my wallet for my arrival in my new country.  What I received was totally different than anything I had seen before.  What was so special about this money?

Despite Australia’s low population, the Australian dollar is the fifth most traded currency in the world (behind the US dollar, euro, British pound, and Japanese yen) because of Australia’s high interest rates, strong economy, stable political system, and proximity to Asian markets.  All of this, however, is boring.  What is not boring is this:

Aussie currency is just plain cool.

Starting with the banknotes:  the first thing that jumps out is the colour.  Each denomination is a different colour.  The $5 bill is pink, $10 is blue, $20 is red, $50 is yellow, and $100 is green (my favourite denomination and my favourite colour!)  But this isn’t all.  Take a closer look.

While each bill is the same height, the lengths differ.  The $5 is the shortest and smallest, and the bills increase in size up to the $100 note.  This helps those with vision impairments identify the bills more easily.  The bills are printed with various security features making the Aussie dollar one of the world’s most advanced and secure notes.  Each banknote has a transparent window in it – with a white design embossed over it.  Australia’s coat of arms can be seen when you hold the bank note up to light, and microprinting (teeny tiny text that is barely visible without a magnifying glass) is also included.  But wait there’s more!  The serial numbers fluoresce when viewed under ultraviolet light.

All of this makes Australian currency nearly impossible to counterfeit.  Another main reason it’s so hard to counterfeit:  the banknotes are not made of paper.  They are made of plastic.  Australia developed the technology for “polymer” (plastic) banknotes and first released them in 1988.  Because they are plastic instead of paper, the bills don’t wear nearly as easily.  They are difficult to rip and they are waterproof, so no worries if there’s a $20 note in your pants pocket when you put it in the wash.  It will come out just fine.  Why hasn’t the US implemented this???

Just like the notes, the coins are sized according to denomination too.  The 5¢ coin is the smallest and thinnest, then the 10¢ coin, the 20¢ coin, and finally the 50¢ coin is the largest and thickest.  This makes a bit (or a lot) more sense than in the States where both the penny and nickel are bigger and thicker than the dime.  All the coins are silver (though really copper and nickel) and circular, except for the 50¢ piece which appears circular but is actually a dodecagon.

Notice before that I didn’t mention a $1 banknote.  That’s because in Australia, like in Canada, there are coins for $1 and $2 rather than bills.  While they last longer, I will say that having the extra heavy coinage in your pockets can be a bit weighing (get it?!?)  The $1 and $2 coins are gold rather than silver (actually, they are nickel, aluminum, and copper) and smaller than some of the silver coins.  This is where the Aussies slipped a bit.  Both coins, however, are thicker than their silver counterparts.  The $1 coin is actually bigger than the $2 coin, though the latter is thicker.  I will say that this confused me greatly on my first day in Sydney as I thought they were pennies or 2¢ coins because of their size.  Which brings me to:

There aren’t any pennies!  While things are priced with cents, all transactions involving cash (as opposed to credit cards, debit cards, or online transfers) are rounded to the nearest 5¢.  I actually don’t mind this at all as it keeps pesky pennies out of my pockets.

And what’s on the notes and coins???  The notes feature people on both sides – all prominent Australians that you’ve never heard of – with the exception of the $5 note which features the Queen on one side and Parliament House on the other.  The coins mainly feature Aussie animals – kangaroos, the platypus, echidna, and lyrebird – as well as the coat of arms on the big 50¢ coin and an Aboriginal tribal elder on the $2 coin.

So, come on US.  Why must you insist on lagging behind in so many areas?  Yes, we appreciate that you’ve added a little bit of colour to the banknotes in the past few years, but come on – make the gays happy and go crazy with the colour!  And make the lesbians happy and bring on the durability!  And make everybody else happy that their $20 bills aren’t ruined in the washing machine every time they forget to take them out of their pants pocket.  It’s just good fiscal policy.

Oh yeah.  What would the US know about that???


  1. There are two versions of the $5 note - one of the other versions in circulation features a guy called 'Sir Henry Parkes', who is the 'Father of Federation' (which basically means, he thought Australia should become one country, rather than several separately governed states), and he just so happens to be my great-great grandfather!

  2. The reason the $2 coin is smaller than the $1 coin is because it takes on the British custom of Pounds and Pence. The £2 coin is the smaller than the £1 coin.

    Also, the rounding goes up AND down. If it's ¢2 or ¢1 it goes down. Otherwise it goes up.

    The ¢50 piece is the largest coin in circulation in the world! It's a dodecahedron. And I love your blog.

  3. Katharine- do you get royalties everytime someone uses a $5 bill? You should. And since I thought of it, you should give me a finders' fee ;)

    Scotty - thank you! :)

  4. Just as a side note- the plastic notes are amazingly durable, but also have a sneaky will of their own- many unfortunate Australians fall victim to tightly folded notes popping out of their pockets when least expected!

    I'm loving reading your blog, it's very entertaining on a slow day at work! :)

  5. Huh? British £2 coin is not smaller than £1 coin. £2 is currently the largest circulating coin in the UK.

  6. Real talk now though, Phill; have you tried to do the 5 dollar note trick yet, or seen it for that matter?

  7. I have not... but now I'm intrigued...

  8. Coins lost in australian :)

  9. Thank you for sharing! This article is informative and very helpful. Good job!